DOWNTOWN L.A. — Opening statements are expected this afternoon in the trial of William Vasquez, an alleged hard-core gang member who is charged with the murders of five people, including two Santa Monica men who were brutally gunned down while attending a birthday party at the Moose Lodge in Ocean Park, prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.

Vasquez, who has been described as an active member of the 18th Street clique, widely considered to be the second largest gang in Los Angeles, is facing the death penalty if convicted. Three of the murders he has been charged with are gang related, prosecutors said. Vasquez has plead not guilty.

Two others, Jose Mojarro and Erick Nunez, were found guilty in March of last year on two counts of first-degree murder in the Moose Lodge shooting, which took the lives of Jonathan Hernandez, a 19-year-old resident of Ocean Park, and Hector Bonilla, a 25-year-old resident of the Pico Neighborhood.

Mojarro and Nunez are currently in prison. Mojarro is appealing his sentence of life without parole. Nunez is serving multiple life sentences, prosecutors said.

In January of 2006, Nunez was wanted on an arrest warrant for the Moose Lodge murders when he attempted to flee from Sheriff’s deputies, shot an AK47 at them, and took a family hostage during the pursuit, prosecutors said. Nunez was convicted in that case in 2007 and was sentenced to 194 years to life in state prison.

Bonilla and Hernandez were attending a private party at the Moose Lodge on 16th Street and Ocean Park Boulevard on the night of March 5, 2005 when Mojarro, Nunez and Vasquez showed up uninvited. An argument broke out between the men and Hernandez while they were at the bar, according to a coroner’s report released weeks after the shooting.

They “talked peaceably” and within a few minutes walked away from the bar toward the dining room, “when one of them physically assaulted Mr. Hernandez, causing him to drop down to one knee.” Bonilla, who was at a nearby table, “ran to his aid,” the report said. The gang members fired twice, causing him to fall to the floor.

A rival gang member then fired four shots at Hernandez, who was on his knee, causing him to collapse, the report said.

After the initial shots were fired at Bonilla, “one or more of the rival gang members” fired in the direction of the DJ and his assistant, the report said.

According to the report, “Some gang members then fired several more shots into Mr. Hernandez and Mr. Bonilla when they were on the ground.”

Twenty-six medium caliber copper-jacket bullets were fired into the bodies of Bonilla and Hernandez.

Bonilla left behind a wife and three young children.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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